Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Policy Perspective: Blue states are floundering

Democratic states claim they want to build affordable housing, clean energy and infrastructure. Excessive regulations and processes are causing them to fail.

The Policy Perspective Column Graphic
Graphic by Charlene Tsai

Clean energy is a core part of the Democratic Party’s platform. The 2020 Democratic Party platform calls for building a “globally competitive clean energy economy.” Yet in 2023, the state with the most installed solar infrastructure is not New York or California, where Democrats dominate state government, but Texas, a Republican-controlled state. This is despite billions of dollars spent by California’s state government to invest in solar energy. It’s not just in building housing with clean energy where blue states are failing: consider the issue of affordable housing. Prominent Democrats have championed that housing is a human right, yet in California, the quintessential Democratic state, the homeless population since 2020 has risen at a much faster rate than the rest of the country. California has one of the highest unsheltered homelessness rates in the country and one of the highest homelessness rates in the country in general, after similarly Democratic-controlled Washington, D.C., New York, Vermont and Oregon. Meanwhile, in cities in Texas, rent prices are decreasing despite an increase in the population. These issues, among others, have caused blue states to face a population exodus, with thousands leaving blue states for red ones according to census data. The question of why so many Democratic-controlled states are floundering on issues one would expect them to lead is a difficult one. However, there are two clear steps these states can take to start fixing the issues they face.

Firstly, they could increase housing supply and therefore housing affordability by passing zoning reform. In addition to local governments simply allowing affordable housing to be built, states should allow market-rate housing to be built as well. Though the aversion to building new housing that is unaffordable for many is understandable, economic studies show even expensive new units do decrease housing and rent costs.

Secondly, many Democratic states are crippled by excessive regulation and bureaucracy. Consider the California Environmental Quality Act, which allows individuals and groups to challenge new development on environmental grounds and mandates time-consuming and expensive analysis for public projects. Though well-intentioned and meant to protect the environment, CEQA has been used to block everything from new housing to clean energy projects to bike lanes. Infamously, CEQA was used to try to block new student dormitories for University of California, Berkeley students by classifying “social noise” from students as an environmental issue that needed to be reviewed. Repealing laws like CEQA and passing permitting reform would go a long way toward helping states build the housing and infrastructure they need to.

The problems blue states face don’t mean they’re bad places to live. For many, there are numerous advantages of living in states politically controlled by Democrats, such as abortion rights protections, access to gender-affirming care and strong anti-discrimination laws. However, if Democrats want to live up to the vision they promise, they need to take a hard look at their state policies and start making some course corrections.